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“I haven’t felt any discrimination [in the company],” the Starbucks employee, who is Black, says. “The goal is to capture people that need to pay. The way that it’s coming off is by being enforced by humans who are prone to stereotyping. People would come in, plug in to the free wifi, bring their own lunch and we wouldn’t say one thing to them. These guys are there for 10 minutes and you’re asking them to leave?”

Much online commenting has centered on the actions of the men involved. What did they do? What didn’t they do? There are still people, despite constant evidence to the contrary, who believe that Black people who do what white people do without a second thought every single day, must have done something to warrant the overreaction of white people. At best, this was an overzealous attempt to enforce an existing company policy that likely will always be difficult to do.

At worst, this is the very definition of racial profiling and a humiliating lesson in how it can impact Black men and women in the daily process of living their lives. Starbucks’ CEO, Kevin Johnson, wants to make an in-person apology to the men and you can bet that they will never have to pay for a Starbucks coffee again.

It will be interesting to see, though, if they seek the payday they so richly deserve for embarrassment and the hours of time that they lost. This incident shows that racial profiling is not uncommon, nor is it insignificant. These men were fortunate that their business partner believed them and was outraged enough to get them a lawyer.

They were fortunate that a patron recorded part of the encounter and witnessed the rest. They were fortunate  that D.A.’s office declined to prosecute and that both Blacks and whites were outraged on social media, forcing a quick, though tepid, response from Starbucks and the Philadelphia police.

Philadelphia police chief Richard Ross, also Black, says that his officers acted appropriately. But his response, which may have intended to both support his officers and justify the arrest, came off as though he believed this type of stereotyping was based on the men’s behavior when we have yet to hear their side of the story.

 

 

Philly’s crime rate would suggest that spending time and energy on a loitering arrest, with multiple police offers dispatched to the scene, was something that would become at the very least, a PR nightmare. There is a horrific history of Black men being charged with loitering and other minor offenses that dates back to  the Jim Crow era. Training and policy notwithstanding, this a situation where common sense should have prevailed.

You always have to consider – if the men in this situation were white – does an arrest happen? We know the answer. It’s unimaginable to think that  while waiting on a business associate, to do the most universally human thing anyone can do, which is to use a restroom, would result in the arrest of two white men.

I don’t personally support a boycott, if only because at this point, we’d be down to nothing if we boycotted every microaggression, every biased company and situation. That Starbucks, a company that has made efforts to be inclusive in both brand message and hiring practices, is in the middle of his controversy shows just how persistent it is.

What we’d like to see more often, is what has happened here – that people of all backgrounds step up when they see an injustice and encourage others to do so as well. Maybe that means these incidents will become so rare they no longer even require social media outrage. But in this case, we hope the young men will get something out of this other than the embarrassment and frustration they must have experienced in just another day of Being Black in America.

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